Vancouver Canucks: Why Is Everybody Panicking?
I read a couple of Canucks discussion boards, and one of them has a discussion that was started after Sunday’s 4-2 loss to San Jose, wondering when GM Mike Gillis will have to stop being patient and actually address some “issues” with the current Canucks line-up. I’ve avoided most Canucks talk since Sunday, as I am wont to do after a loss because so many fans of the team get so negative after any particular loss where the team doesn’t play that well, and the talk radio hosts aren’t much better. One would think the team was on an 0-12 streak or something, listening to some of these people talk.
Thus, I missed the beginning of the thread, though I have caught up on it now. The basic premise is that the Canucks are losing ground to Calgary and Colorado even as they are beginning to get healthier again. Winning the division is beginning to look like a pipe dream, and the initial poster actually asks what the fallout will be if the Canucks miss the playoffs (they are currently in 11th place). The Canucks are 5-5 in their last 10, but 4-2 in their last 6. You could argue they should be 5-1, as they looked much better than Chicago in that 1-0 shutout loss. Reading through the thread, many people agreed with the original poster, though thankfully there were some more level heads who are currently arguing with them.
So why the panic?
My first thought is “Detroit’s in 10th place, one point ahead of the Canucks. Does anybody think they’re not going to make the playoffs?”
My second thought is that Colorado is one of those teams that’s going to crash and burn. They have been playing extremely high above their level, and they are actually starting to fall already. They’re 3-4-3 in their last 10 games, the Canucks have blown them out of the building twice within a week’s span, and hot goalie Craig Anderson has been extremely tepid lately. Other teams that will eventually come down from their initial high? My bet is that Phoenix will not make the playoffs, and they are currently there. The same with Nashville.
So are the Canucks in any danger? Of course they are. While they are doing “ok” right now, they do need to get on at least one hot streak, preferably a rather long one with that long Olympic road trip they have to go on. Their penalty kill needs to improve, and they have to start actually showing up in the 2nd period. Sometimes, I wonder if they’ve left something behind in the locker room when they come out for the second period, whether it’s their brains, their energy, or something. They consistently get outclassed in the 2nd, and that’s usually when they lose the game. Even though San Jose scored two quick goals in the 3rd to ice last Sunday’s game, you could say that their lackadaisical play in the 2nd is what cost them the lead for good.
However, I don’t see any need for panic yet, though December will be a telling month. They have quite a few home games this month, and they need to capitalize on them.
The main reason I’m in the “patience is a virtue” mode is that I think the main problem with this team as that some players have been seriously under-performing, and I don’t see that carrying forward much longer, and have even seen signs of improvement already.
1) Alex Edler
The young defensive stud from the last year or two was missing earlier this year. While he’s currently -4, he was much worse defensively in the early games. Many times he looked lost in the defensive zone. He wasn’t scoring, either. Recently he’s been doing much better. Whether it’s because he’s been playing on his natural side recently or whatever the reason, he hasn’t looked as horrible as he was. He still makes the occasional bone-headed play, but keep in mind he’s still extremely young. He also has one of the best passes I’ve seen. He currently is 2nd on the team in defensemen scoring, with 1 goal and 15 assists. He’d have even more assists if some of the forwards would be able to bury the chances that he’s produced for them with wicked breakout passes (Ryan Johnson, I’m looking at you). The kid’s got great instincts.
2) Alex Burrows
Burrows was reportedly hampered by a groin injury, and one report I read said that if the team hadn’t already been decimated with injuries, he probably would have sat some games out. He always played with some energy, but it did look like his offensive skill and energy level was hampered by that injury, along with missing Daniel Sedin, who was out with his own injury. Burrows works great as the “third” twin, but he doesn’t really cut it as a second. He wasn’t able to score with Henrik and he was then tried with other players who didn’t really complement his skill set. The last four games, since Daniel returned and that line has been reunited, it has been dynamite. Burrows also appears to be healthy, and you can tell because he does have a lot more jump than he did before.
3) Ryan Kesler
Kesler can’t seem to find the back of the net, getting robbed a number of times in recent games. However, he’s getting plenty of assists to compensate, either from rebound goals or from glorious passes. He’s still playing with the edge that he’s always had, and has been benefiting the team in that way, but I sense that one of these days his goals are going to start going in again. He’s looked a lot more consistent over the last few games too.
4) Kyle Wellwood
This guy is on fire over the last three games, and his play improved noticeably even before that. I suggested that he be sent down to Manitoba on November 15, and his play picked up quite a bit after that. Coincidence? I think not! He has 4 points in his last 3 games, including 2 goals. He’s creating opportunities, and the Wellwood line was arguably the best line on Sunday night. He’s much better than the way he was playing earlier in the season, and he’s starting to show that. As long as he keeps it up, he’ll probably maintain his spot in the line-up.
On paper the Canucks are a much better team than their 14-12 record indicates. One thing that’s been missing this year as compared to last (as shown in theref’s “Year-Over-Year comparison” post) is that the Canucks have not been able to get that extra point for losing in overtime or the shootout. They haven’t been able to scrape back into a game to take it to overtime, though they have two shootout wins. The teams around them have a bunch of extra points (Columbus - 5, Dallas - 7, Detroit - 4, St. Louis - 5). They need to find a way to fight their way into overtime (of course, it’s even better if you win your overtime games, but the Canucks have only been in two to begin with).
Thus, I don’t see any reason for worry quite yet. The Canucks are starting to gel as a team now that they are relatively healthy, and their play over the last 10 games (with a couple of exceptions) has been much better than earlier this year. They do have a job to do and many hurdles to climb, but I think they can do it. If they’re in the same position at the end of December as they are now, then it might be time to do something, and I think Gillis will do something. There have been so many positives this year (the improved play of Mason Raymond, the acquisition of Christian Ehrhoff), that I think the team will be much better when some of the others start playing up to their ability.
So relax, Vancouver fans. For now, things are ok. Let’s be patient, and re-evaluate in a month. Meanwhile, let’s sit back and watch how things go.